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Rural Alaska

Kaktovik digs out after frigid storm buries Arctic community

The North Slope village of Kaktovik, on the shores of the Beaufort Sea, is recovering from a Saturday night blizzard that packed frozen, hurricane-force winds and sent dumpsters tumbling like dice, residents said.

"It was the worst I've ever seen," said Flora Rexford, who has lived in Kaktovik all her life. "Dumpsters were flying around."

National Weather Service meteorologists say they don't know exactly how strong Saturday's winds were -- because weather equipment broke during the storm.

"We don't have any hard data," said Fairbanks NWS lead meteorologist Cary Freeman. High winds likely disabled the equipment, he said.

"We think the wind broke it."

Point Thomson, to the west of Kaktovik, recorded a wind gust of 76 mph -- barely hurricane-force territory.

On Barter Island, where Kaktovik is located, blowing snow rattled houses and reduced visibility. Even stepping out of the school to walk across a street to a relative's house seemed too dangerous Saturday night, Rexford said.

"I was scared for my life when I went out there."

Photos posted to social media Sunday showed snow drifted high against buildings, in some cases completely blocking doors and windows. Rexford heard stories of people becoming completely disoriented in the storm, with the visibility near zero.

One man "took two steps from his snowmachine and lost it," she said. He was able to make his way to a nearby house and bang on the window, and was let inside.

The winds knocked out power, Rexford said. On Sunday, the temperature in Kaktovik hovered between 10-20 degrees below.

Many families -- maybe 50 or 60 people in all -- were camped out at the village school because their houses were too cold.

The good news, Rexford said, was that she hadn't heard of anyone unaccounted for as of Sunday afternoon. And people were working to restore power and get the village up and running again.

"So many people are helping," she said.

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